Here I am again, with another Maisey Yates review under way, having thoroughly enjoyed the first in the Gold Valley series (an offshoot of the equally marvelous Copper Ridge series, the series that started it all, the ur-series!), Smooth-Talking Cowboy. Every time I read a Yates romance and add it to the love pile, I get to think about what it is that Yates is doing in the genre. There is nothing new or unfamiliar to Smooth-Talking Cowboy. It’s signature Yates and many of the tropes she likes to employ are present. I’ve met these hero and heroine types in previous romances and I liked them, just as I liked these two.
Olivia Logan is a town princess. Her family are founders; they’re not extravagantly wealthy, but comfortable, supportive, loving, and Olivia is the apple of their and the town’s eye. When the novel opens, Olivia has not too long ago broken up with her boyfriend, town vet Bennett Dodge. Olivia had long envisioned how her perfect self would have the perfect life and she pressured, prodded, and pushed Bennett to propose. When Bennett hesitated, she broke up with him, with the hope that absence makes the heart fonder. Bennett’s supposed to come back to take up the mantle of providing Olivia with her perfect life: a husband, family, home, made to order for a town princess.
You know what they say about best laid plans going astray? Well, Olivia strays into dangerous, bad-boy, older guy territory with Luke Hollister. Luke is an employee of Bennett’s ranch-owning brothers. He’s been there since he was sixteen. His background is a mystery; his eyes, green; his charm, legendary; his lady-prowess, prodigious. He and Olivia strike their devil’s bargain: he will help Olivia make Bennett jealous in her come-hither-future-husband campaign and she’ll put in a good word for Luke to her father, Cole, from whom Luke wants to buy land to start his own ranch.
We meet Luke and Olivia when their worlds are changing and neither likes change very much. While their verbal sparring and “town” roles (flirtatious antagonism is what I call what Yates does with her heroes and heroines, at least initially) identify them as “opposites”, they have this abhorrence of change in common. Luke’s old patron and father figure, Quinn Dodge, retired with a new wife in a new town and left the ranch, Get Out of Dodge, to his three sons, men Luke is close to but who are making changes that don’t interest him. Olivia, of course, called her whole plan for life into question when Bennett didn’t propose. Their bargain is expedient, “convenient” in rom-speak: they will fake-relationship their way into getting what they want. Win-win, right? Wrong, says Yates, because there’s this pesky matter of attraction, an attraction that has simmered beneath the surface of their masks, “princess” and “bad boy”, for long. Yates loves to show us how love is not an experience we run toward, but away from: because it cracks us open and makes us reevaluate everything we’ve known about ourselves. It is that person with whom we share an undeniable connection, which we often dismiss as “mere” physical attraction. But it isn’t shallow when it calls out vulnerabilities, half-glimpsed, hurtful truths, and difficult revelations.
And having read Smooth-Talking Cowboy, I thought all over again about what Yates does that matches with my sensibility, my big Truths. Yates takes romance tropes, the virginal, good-girl princess, like Olivia, and the charming roguish womanizing bad boy, the man without a past, without roots, who comes riding into town, Luke, and strips away the stockness of their characterization, peels away the tropishness of their trope-masks. Love cracks them open and the truth of themselves spills out: it spills out when their attraction leads them to make love and when making love forces some long-buried truths from them. I like that for Yates the physical revelation of connection interweaves with the psychic. The physical isn’t “mere”, but essential to the cracking open of the self to the other, which heals and allows for love and connection to take form and create a marriage. And I love that this is always how Yates’s romances end. And why I’ll keep reading them. With Miss Austen, I’ll say that Smooth-Talking Cowboy is proof of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Maisey Yates’s Smooth-Talking Cowboy is published by HQN (Harlequin Books). It was released on February 20th and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from HQN, via Netgalley.